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Kate Warne, the world’s first female detective (part 1)

If the name of Kate Warne is unknown to you, you’re not alone. Most of the world has never heard of her, that is too bad — particularly with those of us in the detective-fiction-to-true-crime crowd. Kate Warne, as far as we can tell, is the first woman ever hired as a fulltime, true-to-life detective. […]

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Joseph Priestly’s big writing idea, a winter’s read recommendation, and radio drama from the BBC: newsletter, Dec. 7, 2018

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,977) on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018.     In light of the reduction of our beehives, which I reported last week, I have come across a couple of substantial articles about bees and insects in this environment. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance […]

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by Charles Turner, after  James Gillray, mezzotint, published 1819 (circa 1800)

James Gillray: puncturing the pompous with caricature

Caricature is fairly common today (even amateurs like me try their hand at it), but in the late 18th century, it was a newly developing form of art, as well as social and political communication. And no one was better at it — a set a higher standard for others of his and those who […]

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A writer who didn’t want to be edited, the ‘real’ Moriarty, and your good words: newsletter, Nov. 23, 2018

  Thanks for the many emails about the words that we use and the ones we don’t hear enough. This week’s word, of course, is gratitude, in line with the Thanksgiving holiday that Americans have celebrated this week. All of us have much to be thankful for. I do my best to remind myself of that […]

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WinstonChurchill

Winston Churchill: yet another biography, but just what we need

By Andrew Roberts’ count, there are slightly more than 1,000 biographies of Winston Churchill. That’s one for almost every page of his massive new biographyChurchill: Walking with Destiny. So, why write another one — particularly one of such length. Surely by now, we should be able to reduce Churchill to just three or four hundred […]

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Fanny Burney: paving the way for Jane Austen and the Brontes

Before there was Jane Austen, before there was George Eliot, before there were Charlotte and Emily Bronte — before even women were supposed to be able to write in this new developing form called a novel — there was Fanny Burney (1752-1840). Burney, daughter of Dr. Charles Burney, a well-known scholar and music teacher of the second half […]

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Bill Mauldin, the voice of the grunt

Those who served in the United States military as enlisted men and women — particularly from World War II through Vietnam — have a particular affinity for Bill Mauldin. Mauldin was an artist whose cartoons depicted, with brilliant perception, brutal honesty, and insightful humor, the life of the everyday “grunt,” the guy who dug the ditches, […]

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The difficult Noah Webster and his difficult times

Noah Webster was a difficult man living in a difficult time. In 1806, when he published the first edition of his dictionary, it was judged not for its content but by for the political positions of the author. Webster was a Federalist, but he had with Republican attitudes about the language Americans spoke.  Because of his apostasy, […]

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Toss your sundials – mechanical clocks are here to stay

You probably have a sundial or two still laying around the house. Well, it’s probably time to let the garbage guys (and gals) carry it away. Mechanical clocks are here, and they’re not going away. That could have been the message to the people of Salisbury, England, in 1386 when the mechanical clock was installed in […]

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Luck, chance, courage and daring – another heroic tale from World War II 

Joachim Ronneberg, like so many other courageous individuals during World War II, tried to do what he could to fight off the Nazi invasion and oppression of his nation. He didn’t mean to become a hero. But that’s what happened. In 1943, Ronneberg and eight fellow resistance fighters skied across the Telemark pine forest, mostly […]

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GenGrant

Good advice for the General: Write like you talk

As a writing teacher of several decades, I never cared for the advice “write like you talk.” Most people don’t talk all that well. Besides, writing is a different process from talking. Talking is easy. Writing is hard. But “write like you talk” was the advice that Ulysses S. Grant got from Robert S. Johnson, […]

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Benedict Arnold, explained but not excused

Nathaniel Philbrick‘s Valient Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution. explains–but does not excuse–Benedict Arnold. And the explanation is an important part of the history of the American Revolution. And, therefore, it is important for Americans to hear and understand. Philbrick is a top-flight historian whose narrative prose makes any topic he tackles readable […]

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The United States has always been divided in its thinking — even before it was the United States

The deep divisions in America’s current political culture undoubtedly pose serious and difficult problems for the long-term health of the nation, but they need to be set in some context. The truth is that the United States of America has never been united except on the most basic of principles (equal justice, free speech, etc.). […]

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America’s chief WWII codebreaker, language and dialect in Appalachia, new season for Serial; newsletter, September 14, 2018

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (x) on August 30, 2018 At this writing, a major hurricane is about to slam into the east coast of the U.S., and predictions are that it will cost lives and do great damage. In the middle of this past week, as we were traveling […]

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Cades Cove in winter, watercolor

Appalachian language and other myths about the region

You’ve probably heard this rural legend (as opposed to urban legend): The people of Appalachia speak a dialect of English that harkens back to the English of Chaucer; it’s older even than the English of Shakespeare. No, they don’t. Just as everyone else’s English has done, the English of rural Appalachia has constantly evolved and […]

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A 19th century writer-rock star, King James’ obsession, costly commas, and the Clinton impeachment revisited: newsletter, Sept. 7, 2018

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (x) on August 30, 2018 Too much good stuff to read, too little time. I am in the middle of an excellent novel by a well-known author at the moment, and I will tell you about it in a week or two. I’ve also started […]

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King James I, perpetrator of a Biblical translation, hunter of witches

The famous opening scene of The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare begins with the speeches of three witches. They predict what will happen in the play, but they are more than a dramatic device. They were a very pointed and obvious political statement. That statement — something of a cheerleader’s “We’re with you all […]

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The long life of Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride”

When William Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “Paul Revere’s Ride” in 1860 and published it in The Atlantic in the January 1861 issue, he had a goal in mind. He wanted to create a clarion call to his fellow citizens to recognize the danger to the Republican by the secession of Southern states and for those citizens […]

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Paul Revere, road warrior and speed king

File this under The American Road, History Division. Paul Revere, we all know, is famous for riding through the night of April 18-19, 1775, spreading the alarm “to every Middlesex village and farm,” letting everyone know that the British Army, too, was hitting the road, and things were about to turn nasty. (More on that […]

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John Singer Sargent: combat artist in World War I

In 1918, John Singer Sargent, 62, was a world-renowned artist, a man famous for his vision, technique, and talent. He could easily have turned down the request from the British government that he go to France and to produce a piece of artwork that would commemorate the alliance between Britain and America that would eventually […]

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